Major Differences Between SEO and SEM

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Getting the most out of digital marketing can be exhausting especially without a clear understanding of the basic acronyms and jargon that are commonly used. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), for instance, are two of the most essential factors in digital marketing. However, most people and even marketers themselves often used these terms interchangeably. 

When used appropriately, both SEO and SEM can boost brand awareness, strengthen your online presence and improve your overall business sales. Simply put, SEO and SEM can result in effective digital marketing. 



What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Search Engine Optimisation or simply SEO is a search marketing process that uses organic, unpaid tactics to maximise the number of visitors of a website in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).  

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM), on the contrary, is a marketing tactic that involves paid advertisements to earn search visibility in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). These paid advertisements are also called pay-per-click (PPC) ads. 

Differences Between SEO and SEM



SEO techniques are divided into three categories: on-page SEO, technical SEO and off-page SEO. 

  • On-page SEO

On-page SEO is the process of optimising websites through the use of content creation, keyword research and keyword optimisation. This allows search engines to understand a website’s content. 

  • Technical SEO

Technical SEO covers the non-content part of a website. It focuses on the website’s speed, mobile-friendliness, security and a lot more. Technical SEO helps improve both user and crawler experience which may result in higher search engine rankings. 

  • Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO improves a website’s credibility through various techniques such as link building. This technique allows your brand to appear reliable and reputable in various search engines. 

SEM, on the other hand, uses the pay-per-click ads (PPC) strategy. One of the most popular tools for PPC is the Google Ads (previously known as Google AdWords) Google Ads is an advertising system that allows brands to bid on keywords that will make their ads appear on top of Google’s search results.  

  • COST

Most people think that SEO is way cheaper compared with SEM as it involves an organic approach. While this can be true in terms of the techniques used, SEO also comes with a price. It involves cost for a reliable keyword research tool, hiring a skilled content writer, web designer and of course, a web developer responsible for deploying the page itself. 


While both SEO and SEM are designed to boost more traffic on a website, their results often differ. One of the most obvious reasons is that SEM involves paid ads. With just a few clicks, your ads will automatically appear in the SERPs. Given the ability to turn the ads on and off, SEM also allows you to make adjustments on your ad copy. 

With SEO, on the other hand, it would take quite a while to see how your page is performing. Thus, it will also take some time before you can recognise the page’s strengths and weaknesses. The good thing about SEO, however, is that once you rank on the SERPs, you no longer have to invest much resources to maintain your current ranking. 

Differences Between SEO and SEM

SEO vs. SEM: Which One is Better?


Both Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) can help you build stronger online visibility. When it comes to choosing among these two equally-powerful techniques, it is best to consider major factors such as your goals, your needs and your budget. At the end of the day, it will all depend on what you want to achieve for your business. 

Torn between investing in SEO or SEM? We’re here to help you. Email us at or call our hotline at +65 8687 8143 from Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 6pm.

Chris Anne

Major Differences Between SEO and SEM 1

Smmile is a Digital Marketing Agency in Singapore with over 10 years of experience in the industry.